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More Data Center Resistance In NoVa With Protest At QTS

Data Center provider QTS is facing protests over its involvement in a controversial Northern Virginia development — the latest in a growing wave of pushback to data centers in the industry’s most in-demand markets. 


Calling themselves the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, around 50 protesters gathered outside of Kansas-based QTS’ Northern Virginia offices last week, prompted by the revelation that the company is involved in a controversial plan that would open more than 2,000 acres of rural land to data center development. 

The so-called Prince William County Digital Gateway Project, or PW Gateway, has riled some residents and become a subject of heated public debate in county boardrooms and local editorial pages. And the groundswell of opposition to the project is just the latest sign that while demand for data centers in Northern Virginia is higher than ever, political sentiment may make development increasingly difficult. 

“We don’t have to sacrifice hallowed ground and the Occoquan River watershed for good economic development,” protestor Elena Schlossberg told InsideNoVA

“We are here to say to QTS data centers … go away.”

If approved by county officials, the PW Gateway would change zoning laws to allow data centers along a 2,000-acre stretch of Prince William County known as the “rural crescent."

The proposed development, unveiled last March, patches together plots from more than 200 different landowners, and could create as much as 27.6M SF of data center space. According to InsideNova, the development would add as much data center space as is currently in use or under construction in neighboring Loudoun County

The massive project generated controversy as soon as it was announced in March of 2021. Opponents say the creation of a massive hub of industrial buildings and their supporting infrastructure will ruin the character of what is a primarily rural area. The project’s proximity to Manassas National Battlefield — a historic site operated by the National Park Service — is also a central concern for opponents.

The park service and nonprofits affiliated with the battlefield have been some of the most significant voices against PW Gateway.  

QTS recently acknowledged that the company is planning to purchase 800 acres at the site — a revelation that prompted last week’s protest. 

Gathered outside QTS’ offices near the campus of George Mason University, protesters chanted and carried signs with slogans like “stay out of the rural crescent” and “save our sacred battlefield.” Others pointed to the presence of graves of enslaved people within the planned development footprint. 

The protests add to what has been a growing wave of opposition to data center developments around the country — a trend that is extending to the geographic heart of the industry in Northern Virginia even as demand to build there is growing. 

Prince William County abuts Loudoun County — the largest data center market in the world — where there is record demand for data center space but dwindling available land to build them on. Earlier this month, officials in Loudoun County rejected an initial proposal that would rezone an area just across the county line from the PW Digital Gateway for data center development. 

As Bisnow reported earlier this month, increasingly negative public sentiment toward data centers in Loudoun could push development into neighboring areas. As connectivity throughout the region increases, data center developers are increasingly looking outside of Loudoun to neighboring areas like Prince William County, where land is less expensive and more readily available.

But the reaction to PW Gateway is yet another sign that expanding Northern Virginia’s data center hub will encounter growing resistance. 

It’s not just Northern Virginia that’s seeing this kind of pushback. In recent months, opposition to data centers has made headlines in communities across the U.S. From two cities in Arizona to a pair of towns in Connecticut to rural communities in Oregon, local governments and community groups have sought to block or curb data center development. 

“We're seeing it firsthand with a few clients around the country where they thought they had an inroad in very supportive cities and development authorities, but now they're getting some rabble-rousing from the local populace,” said Michael Rechtin, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw who heads the firm’s Data Center Services group, speaking to Bisnow in December.

“Places that were previously supportive are now saying, 'Well, maybe we really don’t want this.”